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Punishing the press

Page history last edited by PBworks 17 years, 8 months ago

Punishing the press


Confronted with overwhelming evidence, baseball toughened its steroids-testing policy. It wouldn't have happened, it's safe to say, had the details and names gathered in a closed-door federal grand jury investigation not appeared in this newspaper.


Two Chronicle reporters, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, have refused to reveal how they received the grand-jury information that helped elevate the steroids scandal into a matter of such public interest that it merited mention in President Bush's January 2004 State of the Union address.


Now, a federal judge has sided with prosecutors who want the two staff writers to cough up the identity of their source. It threatens to hinder newsgathering: Who, after this ruling, may ever trust a promise of confidentiality? It also may send the reporters to jail for doing their job. Their stories weren't just shocking -- the revelations led to major reforms.


The Chronicle has pledged to appeal the ruling, and the two reporters indicate they will go to jail before giving up their source. But these steps shouldn't be necessary.


For both the public and the individuals involved, press rights are at risk here. Many states, including California, offer reporters a shield from such prosecutorial attacks. But in this federal case, no such protection exists, though a string of court rulings suggest such a defense is possible.


This ill-founded case is set in a hostile time for the press. Two other grand-jury cases involving San Francisco journalist Josh Wolf and former New York Times reporter Judith Miller landed both in jail for refusing to divulge information.


Neither the White House nor Congress has shown any interest in protections that would bar such press-bashing. This dereliction eats away at a fundamental freedom.

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